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Council begins search for new county administrator

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By Kirsten Laskey

Selecting a new county administrator took a step forward during the Los Alamos County Council meeting Tuesday night.

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Council approved directing county staff to issue a request for proposals (RFP) or a request for qualifications (RFQ) for an executive firm to conduct a national search for candidates to potentially fill the county administrator post.

Furthermore, the firm would be charged with developing a profile and bulletin for the position, printing recruitment documents, working with an appointed council committee, which includes Councilors Fran Berting, Vincent Chiravalle and Geoff Rodgers, and staff to survey the community’s desired qualities for an administrator and also perform a reference check.

County staff will report back to council in 45 days with a recommended RFP or RFQ.

Also, a subcommittee made up of Berting, Rodgers and Chiravalle will work with the selected search firm and staff during the process and report back to council.

The search could be a time-consuming process, as a result, council unanimously approved extending Acting Administrator Randy Autio’s contract by six months and for the search not to exceed that period of time or if a county administrator is hired, which ever is earlier.  

The base pay for acting administrator is $155,957, which is mid-range for the position. He will not get a car allowance or severance pay as acting administrator. Once a permanent administrator is hired, Autio will be reinstated as county attorney.

Work to get a new administrator needs to move quickly, Chiravalle said.

“We have to lay the groundwork properly,” he said, adding that the county’s human resource department will be given some assistance.

“I agree; we need to move on this,” Vice Chair Jim Hall said.

Not everyone was in support of this process. Councilors Geoff Rodgers and Ron Selvage opposed the approved procedure for hiring an administrator.

Both questioned how effective and successful an executive firm will be in choosing candidates for the position. Rodgers motioned for council to draft an open letter to the public asking for suggestions on what skill sets the administrator should possess and what process they would prefer. A subcommittee and staff would evaluate the comments and get back to council in 30 days. The motion failed to pass.

However, Council Chair Sharon Stover told the Los Alamos Monitor that through the survey of the community, “what Councilor Rodgers is wanting will be addressed.”

A number of issues were considered on how to move ahead with hiring a new administrator.

One of those issues dealt with a question the Charter Review Committee is studying – should Los Alamos have a mayor?

If the committee recommends the answer is yes, and council then decided to take it to the voters and the voters also agree to have a mayor, then that would dramatically change the structure of government.

Right now, the Charter Review Committee has yet to come to any conclusions, but committee member Larry Warner said John Hopkins, chair of the Charter Review Committee, and Kyle Wheeler, chair of the structure of government subcommittee, both believe a decision can be made in 60 days.

Initially, Hall said it was “dumb” to move forward on a county administrator search without first reaching a conclusion on whether or not Los Alamos should have a mayor.

However, he changed his mind “primarily because the Charter Review Committee is analyzing the form of government and I felt that we needed a discussion about what the report might have been in terms of our selecting a CAO (Chief Administrative Officer).

“Once council held that discussion I withdrew (my original opinion),” he said.

Hall said the Charter Review Committee should be allowed to continue studying the form of government but the council needs to be aware of the potential consequences of hiring a new administrator and then deciding to turn to a new structure of government.

Councilor Fran Berting wondered if the Charter Review Committee’s work needed to continue at all. She said she was concerned how the committee’s findings would impact the council’s ability to get candidates for the administrative position.

“I think to change it with the prospect of new management is too unsettling,” she said, adding it could limit the county’s access to good candidates.

Chiravalle said he felt any impacts from possibly changing the form of government can be mitigated in the administrator’s contract, adding, “life is full of risks.”